An excerpt from The Myth of Mars and Venus, which looks at the much-accepted and little-questioned notion that men and women communicate differently, and especially that women talk more than men. Includes a few quantitative figures, which apparently many books on the subjects don’t.
Like the idea that they are no good at housework, the idea that men are no good at talking serves to exempt them from doing something that many would rather leave to women anyway. (Though it is only some kinds of talking that men would rather leave to women: in many contexts men have no difficulty expressing themselves – indeed, they tend to dominate the conversation.)
The folk-belief that women talk more than men persists because it provides a justification for an ingrained social prejudice. Evolutionary psychology is open to a similar criticism: that it takes today’s social prejudices and projects them back into prehistory, thus elevating them to the status of timeless truths about the human condition.
Chambers’ reference to individual men and women points to another problem with generalisations such as “men interrupt more than women” or “women are more talkative than men”. As well as underplaying their similarities, statements of the form “women do this and men do that” disguise the extent of the variation that exists within each gender group. Explaining why he had reacted with instant scepticism to the claim that women talk three times as much as men, Liberman predicted: “Whatever the average female versus male difference turns out to be, it will be small compared with the variation among women and among men.” Focusing on the differences between men and women while ignoring the differences within them is extremely misleading but, unfortunately, all too common.
I seem to recall there was actually a fairly recent study done, maybe right here at the UofA, that sat down and counted how much men and women talked, and found little difference, too.